Don’t Stop Believing – an interview with “Rock of Ages” producer, Matt Weaver

Rock of Ages
Constantine Maroulis as Drew and the original Broadway company of Rock of Ages © Joan Marcus

Guest post by Christian Toto


Matt Weaver spent years trying to convince the world his idea for a “guys” musical featuring hair metal hits from the “˜80s would rock the Great White Way.

Now, Weaver is huddling with Tom Cruise on bringing “Rock of Ages” to the big screen next year.

It seems every day there’s a new star attached to the big screen “Ages,” which Weaver is co-producing. But for now, Weaver still has a show to put on. Plenty, in fact. “Rock of Ages” continues to delight audiences on Broadway, but the show is also playing at the Buell Theatre in Denver through June 26 with Constantine Maroulis back as Drew, the starring role he helped create.

Weaver’s faith in the likes of Poison, Journey and Whitesnake paid off after years of relative disinterest and leaning on his personal credit card accounts. When “Rock of Ages” finally landed on Broadway after playing in Los Angeles and Las Vegas it earned five Tony nominations including one for Maroulis, the “American Idol” castoff.

The jukebox musical follows a small town girl named Sherrie who falls for both a wannabe singer and a pompous rock god, the role Cruise will play in the film. Songs like REO’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” and Slade’s “Cum on Feel the Noize” serve as both backdrop and the narrative thread that ties the very ’80s story together.

Weaver, a film producer by trade (“Hesher,” “Surfwise”), got the idea for the show after being “dragged” to a number of plays by his wife.

“I’m sure they were all very good, but I don’t have the attention span to sit through a play,” he says. One production which didn’t bore him to tears was “The Pussycat Dolls Live on the Sunset Strip.” The show started him thinking. Why couldn’t someone make a musical for guys?

He didn’t have much more than that sketched out, but he knew the show would wrap with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” So Weaver assembled some of his favorite “˜80s songs and handed them to director Kristin Hanggi (“Sunset Strip”) and writer Chris D’Arienzo (the writer/director of “Barry Munday”).

“Rock of Ages” was born in 2005, but it took its sweet time rewarding Weaver’s faith in the concept.

“None of us had theatrical experience. But we were extremely passionate about the music,” he says. The musical played around Los Angeles and, eventually, Las Vegas, but little momentum had built around it. Reviews were weak, but audiences lapped up the music just as they did 20-plus years ago.

Weaver insisted the show belonged on Broadway, so he brought it to the New World Stages, an off-Broadway venue, where it finally caught fire. “Rock of Ages” made its Broadway debut April 7, 2009.

Weaver remains a proud supporter of music many critics sniffed at during the “˜80s.

“‘Every Rose Has its Thorn’ “¦ give me a more beautiful Broadway song than that,” he insists. “The songs [in ‘Rock of Ages’] felt like old-fashioned show tunes to us. We’re not trying to break the mold.”

“Rock of Ages” may be an underdog saga at its heart, but a similar sentiment carried through the casting process. Maroulis, who finished sixth on the fourth season of “American Idol,” couldn’t have been many people’s choice to play Drew, the show’s hero.

“He was kind of forgotten. He never really got his due,” Weaver says of the show’s likable star. “I don’t know where the show would be without Constantine. He’s a one in a million actor. He is Drew.”

The film version of “Rock of Ages,” shooting now, has drawn a bevy of big names including Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti and Alec Baldwin, and Weaver credits director Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”) for luring such A-plus talent. But Cruise almost passed on the project.

“Tom wouldn’t sign on until he was convinced he could sing it “¦ he”˜s very serious about his craft,” Weaver says. Once Cruise felt comfortable singing, dancing and playing the guitar on screen he signed up.

Weaver isn’t a music critic. He just knows what he likes. And he thinks he’s tapped into something universal with “Rock of Ages.”

“The music makes me feel good when I listen to it. It gives me chills and tells me stories. It even makes me wanna join a gym, except I never do,” he says.

Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, radio commentator and film critic with more than a decade of daily newspaper, magazine and web-related experience. (WWTW) offers no-nonsense film reviews, breaking news reports and interviews with some of today’s most talented stars.

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